Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.
The Lives of Others 
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Starring: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck and Sebastian Koch
Runtime: 137 minutes
For those not around during the time, it’s easy to forget just how turbulent of a decade that 1980s Germany was. I was just three years old when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, but the power of that event reverberated for years after. When I visited Berlin a couple years ago, the scars were still readily visible.
It is amazing to think about living in a city that is split in half, especially the ever-increasing paranoia of the two sides spying on each other. The Lives of Others, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s feature film debut, inticrately portrays one example of just how out of control the political games were during this time.
The movie focuses primarily on three individuals, two of whom are being spied upon. The two being watched are renowned playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Although a supporter of Communism, Dreyman is suspected of leading a double life of sorts. The Stasi assign highly respected officer Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) to keep an eye on them. Wiesler bugs Dreyman’s apartment and monitors their activity 24/7, alternating shifts with a co-worker.
Wiesler becomes heavily invested in the couple’s day-to-day activities. His job gives him a form of passion that he does not have in his normal life, one devoid of friends or family. Soon he begins to act protective of the couple, leading them away from potential mistakes that could severely ruin their careers. What starts as a game of cat-and-mouse evolves into something deeper than any one of them could have imagined.
There are many layers to The Lives of Others, and it takes some time to untangle them. As such, the film moves at a methodical pace, slowly building up the suspense before culminating in a spectacular and unforgettable conclusion. The journey to get to this point is remarkable, full of twists and turns, and it gives us plenty of time to fall in love with the characters.
This is a testament to not only the intelligent screenplay, but especially to the amazing cast. Ulrich Mühe, who tragically passed away the year after this film’s release, delivers a performance for the ages. His character’s transformation from stone cold Stasi officer to a caring guardian-in-hiding is phenomenal, and he is masterful from beginning to end. Mühe was able to draw from his own personal life to play the role — it turns out that his ex-wife was actually a Stasi informant without him knowing. Talk about first hand experience. Koch and Gedeck are great as well, but this becomes very much Mühe’s show.
It has been over a week since I sat down to watch The Lives of Others, but as I sit here writing, the flood of emotions and feelings I experienced during the movie have come rushing back to me. This won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2006 Oscars, and the Academy absolutely got this one right. This is the best movie I have seen from this project so far, and I cannot recommend it enough for those who have yet to experience this.